Cover image for Reminiscing in tempo : a portrait of Duke Ellington
Reminiscing in tempo : a portrait of Duke Ellington
Nicholson, Stuart.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Boston : Northeastern University Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
xix, 538 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
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Format :


Call Number
Material Type
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ML410.E44 N53 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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This anecdotal biography of the musical legend draws on reminiscences of his family, close friends, band members, and business associates, as well as the Duke himself. The quotations are presented free of authorial (or perhaps more accurately, editorial) contextualization other than brief chapter introductions. Sources for each interview quoted, many of them archival, are painstakingly notated, and an exhaustive discography is also included. Annotation copyrighted by Book News, Inc., Portland, OR

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

Nicholsons lively, unconventional biography of the great jazz composer, bandleader and pianist amounts to a kind of jazz collage. Keeping third-person historical narrative to a minimum, Nicholson (Billie Holiday) presents Ellingtons life through block quotes, arranging bits and pieces of some 70 years worth of painstakingly gathered interviews, Variety articles, press releases, handbills and even declassified FBI files into a composite narrative of the Dukes life. Among the notables whose words turn up are longtime Ellington collaborator Billy Strayhorn, show business impresario Irving Mills, saxophone great Johnny Hodges, New York congressman Adam Clayton Powell and, of course, Ellington himself. These accounts give a remarkably coherent picture: the Duke was widely beloved and clearly driven, a musician whose energy, appetites and inventiveness remain startling a quarter century after his death. Rich in personal anecdote and period detail, Nicholsons book charts Edward Kennedy Ellingtons childhood among Washington, D.C.s African-American middle class, his rise to fame in the storied speakeasies of Depression-era Harlem and his lifelong devotion to his crafta commitment that remained firm even as swing, and then rock n roll, threatened his cultural prominence. Nicholsons prodigious (and well-footnoted) archival research and his thoughtful orchestration of source material, let him combine accessibility with scholarly authority. The books title comes from a 1934 number Ellington penned to mourn the death of his mother; it sums up the sweetly nostalgic mood that this richly detailed biography creates. Illustrations. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Deftly weaving numerous and varied quotations from Ellington and his family, friends, and fellow musicians with an ongoing narrative, Nicholson, biographer of Ella Fitzgerald (LJ 5/1/94) and Billie Holiday (LJ 9/1/95), successfully brings a humanness and warmth to Americas finest composer, musician, and bandleader in this centennial year of his birth. Delving into a wide assortment of archival materials from the Smithsonian Institution and Rutgers Institute of Jazz Studies, Nicholson covers Ellingtons life from the early 1920s to his glorious period of dominance (mid1930s to 1944) and continuing through his death in 1974. Nicholsons selected quotes, constituting the bulk of the book, occasionally seem oddly juxtaposed, but generally this is a free-flowing portrait. The enormous amount of credited source material suggests potential for further scholarly insight into Ellingtons life. This book is a strong addition to other recent works on Ellington, including John Hasses Beyond Category (LJ 9/15/93) and Mark Tuckers The Duke Ellington Reader (LJ 9/1/93).William Kenz, Moorhead State Univ. Lib., MN (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Most of the flurry of scholarly Ellington books preceded the 1999 centennial of his birth, but this volume is a welcome addition to the growing canon. Excepting Ellington's circumspect "autobiography" Music Is My Mistress (CH, Mar'74), this is the first book that largely allows Ellington, his family, and friends to tell the story of the maestro's life and times. Although Nicholson weaves the strands together with some short sections of historical commentary, he mostly relies on reminiscences drawn from a large variety of oral histories. Behind his public persona a private man, Ellington reveals himself most fully in a series of interviews (housed at the Smithsonian Institution, but not public previously) conducted by Cartar Harman of Time. Ellington's longtime sidekick, drummer Sonny Greer, also proves an invaluable source for the zesty flavor of the 1920s and '30s. Nicholson brings to light a "new" and fascinating strand in Ellington's history--his political stances as viewed by the FBI in a series of entries from its files. This book does not tell a straight history of Ellington. For that one should go to John Edward Hasse's Beyond Category (CH, Mar'94). But it provides more personal insight into the man than any other currently available work. All collections. K. R. Dietrich; Ripon College